No 10 sparks confusion by insisting Boris Johnson remains hopeful of 'family Christmas'

Emily Cleary
·3-min read
Portrait of a loving girl with her grandfather wearing facemasks while celebrating Christmas at home during the COVID-19 pandemic
Downing Street appeared to suggest that Boris Johnson remains 'hopeful' of a traditional Christmas for families across the UK despite the coronavirus epidemic (Getty images)

Britons may be able to celebrate Christmas “as a family” this year, despite the coronavirus crisis, Downing Street has said.

A Number 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.

“As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.”

But the idea that “we can carry on as we are” and have a normal Christmas “is wishful thinking in the extreme”, a government scientific adviser has said.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said “radical action” would be needed to stem the rise in coronavirus cases, particularly in regions with high incidence of the virus.

CHEADLE HULME, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 07: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson jokes with a man dressed as Father Christmas during the warm up before a girls' soccer match between Hazel Grove United JFC and Poynton Juniors on December 7, 2019 in Cheadle Hulme, United Kingdom. The Prime Minister is campaigning in the North West ahead general election on December 12. (Photo by Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson has 'a traditional Christmas' on his wishlist this year (Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

It comes after Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay said he hoped families would be able to spend Christmas together even if things are not exactly the same.

Asked how he would describe the chances of people having a “normal Christmas” despite Covid-19 restrictions, Barclay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would describe it as a shared endeavour for all of us.

“All of us want to be able to enjoy Christmas with our families. And that’s why there is a common purpose here to get the virus down.”

Referring to Christmas, Mr Barclay said: “I think few people expect it to be exactly as it would normally because we will be living with this virus for some time.

“And the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser have been very clear on that.

“But, your point really was about the ability of families to spend Christmas together – that is something we all hope to be in a position to do.”

Downing Street said it was the government’s “ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year”.

In September Boris Johnson set out an ‘alternative coronavirus plan’ with the hope to getting the country nearer to our old lives by Christmas. But since then the number of COVID-19 infections in the UK has rocketed.

Prof Edmunds, who told MPs on Wednesday that tens of thousands of deaths could occur during the current wave of the pandemic, said further measures are needed to bring cases down.

He told the PA news agency that a circuit-breaker is needed across the whole country or at least in areas where incidence is high.

friends take a selfie at christmas during the lockdown
Could Britons look forward to a 'traditional' Christmas in 2020? Downing Street says yes, but the experts disagree... (Getty images)

“The only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now to reduce incidence – at the very least in high incidence areas – and keep the incidence low across the country by implementing a package of measures to reduce social contacts,” he said.

“The notion that we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.”

Prof Edmunds told MPs the UK would see “peaks around Christmas, in the new year, of very severe numbers of cases throughout the UK”.

Sweeping new restrictions were imposed on millions more people in England on Friday, with Greater Manchester moving into the highest alert level, Tier 3, and Wales introducing its two-week “firebreak” lockdown at 6pm.

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Coventry, Stoke and Slough will enter Tier 2 on Saturday, while Warrington is set to be placed into Tier 3 from Thursday next week, the local council said.

Tier 3 restrictions are also expected to come into force in parts of Nottinghamshire from Wednesday.

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